Panera Bread

Panera is nothing like Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell, or any of those old-style chains that are ever-so-slowly sliding into obsolescence. This national bakery shares more in common with corporate cafés such as Starbucks and Einstein Bros., but with a whole lot more than just coffee and bagels. Like, for breakfast, a spinach and bacon baked egg soufflé (in sweet pastry dough) that tastes better than fast food should. And a kids' menu with sandwiches accompanied by organic yogurt and choice of organic milk or organic apple juice. Does Wendy's prepare an all-natural, citrus-herb chicken salad with pecans, Gorgonzola cheese, and white balsamic Fuji apple vinaigrette? Don't think so. Is Blimpie's capable of a smoked turkey sandwich slathered with chipotle mayonnaise and stuffed into an Asiago cheese focaccia? Unh-uh. Will the pressed rosemary focaccia panini with cheese oozing out likely to make Quiznos queasy? Absolutely. Does Mickey D do thin-crust Crispani pizzas topped with roasted cremini and shiitake mushrooms, fresh basil, and fontina and mozzarella cheeses? No sirree. Does Olive Garden use organic Muir Glen tomatoes? Ha! Most salads and sandwiches top out at $6.50, yet Panera is, beyond all else, a full-scale bakery pumping out fresh brownies, bundt cakes, cookies, croissants, scones, muffins, cinnamon rolls (!), and an amazing array of artisan and specialty breads. Good cup of joe, too, but if that's all you want, you could always just go to that specialty chain from Seattle.